By Casey Barber, CNN
You may have a strong love for either the Cincinnati Bengals or the Los Angeles Rams, who if you care, you already know are competing in Super Bowl LVI. (That would be the 56th championship game, since someone at the NFL loves Roman numerals.)
Even if you don’t care about a game featuring teams named after sheep or cats, chances are you’ll be using the game as an excuse to eat party food that’s crunchy, fried, cheesy or all of the above.
Hosting a Super Bowl party is going to be more of a financial investment than in years past. (Don’t give up. Read on.)
“Food prices in general are significantly higher than they were pre-pandemic,” said Joseph Balagtas, associate professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University. He noted that the Consumer Price Index, which measures the average change in prices for consumer goods, shows an 11% increase for food and beverage from December 2019 to December 2021.
“Much of the rise in food prices has been driven by higher meat prices,” Balagtas added. “Things like chicken wings (and) ground beef for your Super Bowl chili are more expensive this year than they were a year ago.”
Even beer prices are slightly higher, thanks to increased packaging costs and the same labor issues affecting much of the economy. (Is nothing sacred?)
It’s time to call an audible — be like the quarterback and change the play at the last minute before you’re handed the ball. Put vegetable-based snacks front and center at your Super Bowl buffet instead of platters of wings and burgers. It’s likely that no one will complain or notice that much.
Plus, going vegetarian is not only a win for climate change, but for the wallet as well. “Even though avocado prices are up over last year, and chips are, too,” according to Balagtas, a pound of guacamole will go further to feed more people than a pound of wings. (Though if you want to split a pound of guacamole between two people, this is the moment to go for it.)
Here are some budget-friendly options for your game-watching menu. Whether it’s creamy dips and chips, classic nachos or team-specific eats, we’ve got your spread covered. And if you really want to include meat, using it to flavor your food rather than being front and center is an affordable option.
Nachos for everyone
With a platter of cheesy nachos as a blank canvas for all kinds of toppings, it’s easy to forego the meat without anyone noticing. Make one big sheet pan of broiler nachos for the family or make individual plates and let everyone garnish their own as part of a DIY nacho bar.
Along with the usual suspects like salsa, sour cream and guacamole, get out your skillet and heat up a few less-expected nacho topping options, such as:
• charred corn and green onions
• fajita-style peppers and onions
• Chipotle-style sofritas
• homemade cheese sauce instead of Velveeta
And, of course, beans. If you’re reaching for a can of pinto or black beans, now’s the time to step up your seasoning game.
Make a quick version of homemade refried beans by sautéing onion and garlic in oil until translucent, then adding drained and rinsed beans. Mash coarsely, then add broth or water to loosen the mixture. Keep mashing to your desired consistency, and add spices like smoked paprika, chili powder or taco seasoning if desired. (Now you’ll never go back to the canned version again.)
Buffalo beyond wings
Even if wings aren’t in the budget, you can indulge in that classic hot and tangy buffalo flavor as part of your food lineup. Buffalo sauce is an egalitarian sauce that is welcome in many party-friendly foods, so stir it in, drizzle it on, and smother everything if you want.
Creamy Buffalo white bean dip could be the full meal for a small gathering, thanks to the beans’ extra protein that will fill you up.
For the air fryer fanatics, Buffalo cauliflower bites get crispy at the edges from the high-powered convection motor of the stovetop fryer. Don’t have an air fryer? Don’t panic — you can roast cauliflower in the oven too.
If you prefer your Buffalo sauce with extra carbs, grab a ball of refrigerated dough or premade flatbreads and bake up Buffalo cauliflower flatbreads. Serve with both ranch and blue cheese dressing on the side, so there are no throw-down fights over which is better here.
You can even make a homemade Buffalo seasoning blend to flavor plain potato chips. To make sure the seasoning sticks, heat the chips on a rimmed sheet pan in a 375-degree oven for 8-10 minutes until the oil in the chips starts to glisten. Transfer to a large bowl and toss with the seasoning until they’re coated to your liking.
Stretch the meat budget
If the defense is blitzing you on the idea of an all-vegetarian Super Bowl menu, a compromise is possible. Instead of a slow cooker full of mini meatballs or a tray of wings, pick dishes that have meat as an accent.
Spaghetti is not typically a Super Bowl food, but when the Cincinnati Bengals are playing for the title, there’s bound to be Cincinnati chili involved.
Make the dish a little more party-friendly and a little less prone to a lap-eating disaster by baking it in muffin cups. Mix cooked spaghetti with just enough Cincinnati chili and kidney beans to bind the noodles, then fill the tins. Bake, then top with shredded cheddar and chopped onions.
For the Los Angeles Rams side of the food faceoff, celebrate the sprawling city’s culinary diversity with one of the city’s most beloved eats: the taco. Because each taco only needs a few spoonfuls of filling, you won’t need pounds of meat to make a meal.
Just as southern California is home to a wide range of cuisines, you can make a taco spread with a few unusual fillings whether it’s got meat or not. Try these LA-inspired options:
• Thai peanut chicken tacos
• Nori shell sushi tacos
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Casey Barber is a food writer, illustrator and photographer; the author of “Pierogi Love: New Takes on an Old-World Comfort Food” and “Classic Snacks Made from Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Brand-Name Treats”; and editor of the website Good. Food. Stories.